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KONY 2012: Lessons for a Marketer

by Emily Burgett

Chances are, you’ve seen or heard of KONY 2012 by now. As of March 14th, this 30-minute documentary developed by Invisible Children has over 77 million views.

It’s exploding on social media sites worldwide while defying the standard rule of thumb to only produce video content that lasts two to four minutes. Its hashtag, #KONY2012 was trending worldwide for days. And though the campaign has sparked controversy online, there are still lessons to be learned by marketers who are trying to decide the best way to leverage social media in order to create a viral message that viewers want to share.

Word-of-mouth has long proven to be an effective form of marketing and is becoming evermore important with the rise of social media. Social media has changed the way marketers try to connect with consumers. Consumers now hold most of the control instead of big brands. It is up to marketers to figure out what makes those consumers tick and how to form a relationship that encourages them to share the message. Here is a quick lesson on how KONY 2012 became the perfect example of viral marketing and how that helped Invisible Children to reach their goal of increasing awareness:

In order to successfully reach your targeted demographic, you must start with a well-developed strategy in place that involves really getting to know and understand your audience in order to choose the best channel of distribution. KONY 2012 wanted to inspire youth to get involved, have their voices heard and call viewers to action. They determined the top twenty culture makers and top twelve policy makers that would have a tremendous amount of influence on others and defined those influencers in their 30-minute film.

The best way to develop a viral marketing campaign is to create an experience that consumers will connect with. The KONY 2012 film inspired action by connecting with the audience emotionally, on a personal level. The end of the film gave several ways that youth can get involved, including “share this film…it’s FREE” and the audience did just that. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed the explosion of Facebook posts in their news feed from friends exclaiming “Watch this now!” and many profile and cover photo changes to the KONY 2012 campaign photo. And who would want to get left behind and not know about the subject that almost everyone is talking about? I bet most of you, like myself, watched the film

From an SEO standpoint: how has this campaign affected Invisible Children’s website traffic? For a brief period the website was shut down due to traffic overload, which may be the one downfall of this campaign from a marketing perspective. However, I would expect that many who couldn’t reach the site initially more than likely came back later. Note to SEO gurus and Internet Marketers: When launching a potential viral campaign, ensure that your website is ready to handle the influx of traffic. No one likes to lose a potentially loyal customer.

All of this led to the accomplishment of one of Invisible Children’s goals: to raise awareness of the problem. Thousands and maybe millions of people who had not even heard of Joseph Kony or Invisible Children before March 5 are now aware. And even though there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the issue, that controversy has further increased the level of awareness. It has inspired people to dig in to the issue and do their own research. The KONY 2012 campaign is certainly a viral campaign that marketers should watch closely and monitor for lessons to be learned.

From a marketing perspective, what did you learn from the KONY 2012 campaign? What was done well and what could have been better?

Emily Burgett is a senior at the University of Indianapolis studying marketing and finance. She began working as an intern for the marketing department at Slingshot SEO in January and is pursuing a career in online marketing.


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